The History of Mount Kinabalu Climbing
Mount Kinabalu towers 4095 meters (13,435 feet) above sea level. It is the highest mountain between the mighty snow-capped Himalayas and Wilhelmina (4509 meters / 14,793 feet) in Irian Jaya. It is also one of the most accessible and spectacular mountains in the world. Because of the earth movement, in is still growing with the rate of 5 mm (1/4 inches) a year.
Ever changing, it is the mountain of tropical rainforest, colorful blossoms and golden sunset, but also dark and violent storms. At times, a ghostly mist shrouds the mountain and it is easy to believe the local Kadazandusun's claim that it is the homeland of their spirit world.
In 1964 Kinabalu Park was established to protect Mount Kinabalu and its plant and animal life. Its 754 square kilometer (291 square mile) terrain stretches upward from lowland rain forest to montane forest, cloud forest and sub alpine meadow, before finally reaching a crown of bare granite. Only at Mount Kinabalu can you eat breakfast in a lowland rainforest, lunch in a cloud forest, and enjoy dinner in a subalpine meadow!
The trail to the highest peak winds along the southern side of the mountain. It is an 8.5 kilometer (5.25 mile) trek to the top. For most people, from a 9 month-old baby (carried by father) to an 83 years-old New Zealander, the journey takes two days.
The Kinabalu Park Headquarters is located 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah's capital city. More than one million visitors have enjoyed the park since it opened. In the year 2000, UNESCO have declared Mount Kinabalu as The World Heritage Site.
Today's relatively comfortable two day climb to the peak is a far cry from the travails of the early explorers. In 1851, Sir Hugh Low, then the Colonial Secretary for the British crown colony of Labuan, credited as the first person to climb the mountain, took nine days to reach the summit plateau, traveling in a group of 42 people.
Low and John Whitehead, a zoologist who discovered two of Kinabalu's spectacular birds, Whitehead's Trogon and Whitehead's Broadbill, both started their historic ascents from the village of Kiau, situated on the southern flank of the mountain near the Kadamaian Waterfall and recruited their guides and porters here. This route was both steep and arduous, and when the park was gazetted in 1964 and the Kinabalu Park HQ was established, the ascent route was changed to the present one.
People from the nearer village of Bundu Tuhan supplied most of the guides and porters, and Bundu Tuhan's most famous son, Gunting bin Lagadan, reputed to possess remarkable powers, become the first officially registered park guide. Though Low reached the summit plateau, he did not reach the peak that now bears his name. John Whitehead is the first person who reached the summit in 1888.
Low discoveries focused the attention of the scientific world on Mount Kinabalu, but it was not until 1910 that the first botanist (and incidentally the first lady) Lilian Gibbs, climbed the mountain and discovered many species new to science. Increasing interest in the mountain's natural richness culminated in major expeditions organized by the Royal Society of Great Britain in 1961 and 1964.
Thus it was that in 1964 the Kinabalu Park was gazetted and when the park first opened it was a far cry from the world class facility it is today. In the early years the road to the park was largely a narrow muddy earth track, passable only to 4-wheel drive vehicle. This restricted access to real enthusiasts, but when the road was finally sealed in 1981 visitor figures shot up.
Today more than 200,000 people visit the park each year. Of these, about ten percent have successfully reached the summit. Within the last few years however, an increasing number have come to enjoy more strenuous activities, including Mount Kinabalu Climbathon, mountain running and mountain biking.
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Kinabalu Climber's Guide
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